For the second half of the season, I have made it a goal of mine to be able to publish my insight on the previous days' Irish performance every week, focusing on likes and dislikes.
In a game that produced multiple, near-fatal heart attacks in my living room, Notre Dame and it's late-game heroics prevailed for the third straight week.
Unfortunately for Irish fans around the nation, those same three wins have cost them a few grey hairs.
Defensive line play
Ethan Johnson, Kerry Neal, Ian Williams, and Kapron Lewis-Moore all had outstanding individual, and team, efforts.
Johnson had one of his most productive performances of his young career on Saturday, getting pressure on the quarterback fairly often (How about that roughing the passer call?).
Neal seems inconsistently great in my eyes. Earlier in his career, he would wreck havoc on an opponent's backfield one game, and the next he could be found no where on the field. A round of applause for a recent surge in his performance, and that includes consistency.
Willams might not have wracked up the stats that others did, but he was the one who anchored those goal-line stands. He played with a Trevor Laws-like motor, and is showing how far he has come since his freshman campaign.
Last but not least-Lewis-Moore. A big question mark at the beginning of the season, he has been a pleasant surprise for Randy Hart. He had a very nice game yesterday, and seemed to be in on a lot of the game-changing action.
Manti Te'o, Nick Tausch, and Shaq Evans all played a role in Saturday's cliche football movie ending.
I will leave my words on Te'o's performance short and sweet—he is our best linebacker, and has proven himself as a starting linebacker on this team (10 tackles yesterday, by the way.)
Ladies and gentlemen—we have a kicker. Regarding our five field-goal kicking, record-tying, freshman kicker Tausch—simply outstanding performance. Weis made a bold move in naming his freshman kicker the starter this year, but I haven't heard one complaint yet. The poise, the professionalism, and the leg have all allowed me to gain full confidence in him.
Michael Floyd, who? Kidding aside, Evans got his feet wet against the Huskies with a couple of nice, and important, sideline catches. Now that he knows what it feels like to catch a few rockets from the great one himself, I expect Shaq to have a breakout second half of the year.
Clausen is the best quarterback I have seen in years (including our own Brady). Regardless, he is very lucky to have such an experienced, and tight-knit group in front of him.
This line has gone from the lowest of the lows, to an above average line in only two seasons (if you can bear it, think: '07.) Robert Hughes' longest run of the night sent chills down my spine after seeing the block Chris Stewart threw for him. Simply beautiful.
Another thing that really made this an emotional game for myself was the heart, and determination of this line. The reactions after the "Push by Verducci" on the two-point conversation were priceless—you cannot coach that heart. Every member of the line let out a roar, and gave a Tiger-like fist pump after the official's arms went up.
If you didn't know what my first dislike was going to be, you didn't watch the same game.
The number of times a player gained significant yards after a hit could not have been counted on one, even two, hands yesterday. One play particularly late in the game had my vulgarities booming throughout New Jersey. Brian Smith crushed tailback Chris Polk in the backfield, but Polk staying on his feet, continued to skip over the arms of the Irish defense for positive yardage.
This is a weakness of our team that really hurts me inside. After watching the likes of Miami/Oklahoma yesterday, I was angered even more. Watch those teams play and you will very rarely see a player gain a single yard after contact.
Let's hope Tenuta and the staff dust off the cob webs on the tackling dummies this bye week.
What is going on with the preseason proclaimed best unit?
All of a sudden, Gary Gray has transformed into our best corner back, and Robert Blanton, and Darrin Walls continue to under-perform (you too, Sergio Brown). Most notably on Blanton, the lob ball thrown by Jake Locker in the final minute of the fourth quarter. That ball either needs to be knocked down or intercepted—not caught (which was dropped and not reviewed).
Brown looks as if he is chasing, rather than covering receivers these days. In my opinion, he is no longer that trusted nickel-package player. His best play was his pass interference.
News, Notes, and Rants
-Darius Fleming was a late-scratch from the game due to a tweaked hamstring in warm ups. Considering he has been our best pass-rusher, that makes the defensive line surprisingly look that much more special. Steve Filer also contributed some nice pressure in his brief appearance on the field in Fleming's absence.
-Anthony McDonald suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff. McDonald was hit, got on his feet wobbling, and continued to stumble to the Huskie sideline. He was then met by a trainer, and escorted back to the Irish sideline for examination.
-Roughing the snapper? I know the rule—show me one example of a play where that same "infraction" cannot be called.
-Anthony Barr (ATH), Bruce Gaston (DT), and Hayes Pullard (ATH) all visited for the Washington game. On a side note, Weis has put all of his recruiting marbles into one bag for the USC week, making the game mean that much more (if that was even possible.)
-As much of the community knows, I am an optimist and love to spread that mentality to anyone I can. Apparently, the team has bought into my mindset.
"As long as we win, I don't care how we win. As long as we win." -Brian Smith after Saturday's thriller.